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Law and Governance in Africa


Admission requirements

This course is suitable for 2nd and 3rd year students in Law, Social Sciences (anthropology, sociology of development, public administration), and Humanities (history, area studies, arts). Non-Law students should be willing to familiarise themselves with the outlines of law, whereas law students should be willing to engage in subjects beyond the rules of black letter law. For this course is a sufficient command of English (IELTS 6.5 or higher) required.


Good governance, human rights, the rule of law: in these days law and governance are often presented as the remedy against ‘the African condition’. During this course we explore the complex relations between law, governance and change in Africa. What role, for instance, did ‘customary law’ play in the colonisation process? What does the changing place of the state in Africa – constrained by the international legal and socio-political system, challenged by chieftaincies and decentralised local governments – mean for the ability to bring about change through the law? How do other legal systems – religious, traditional, n.g.o.-law, international human rights – interact with this state law, for instance when it comes to the management of natural resources like land and water?
We do not only look at conceptual tools to understand the relation between law and societal change, but also at selected case studies: local modes of dispute resolution and peacebuilding in Uganda and Mozambique, the revival of traditional chiefs in South Africa, the management of land and other natural resources in various countries, containment of withcraft in Cameroon, and the state of justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo are amongst them. As such, this course is as much about the relation between law and society in the contemporary world as it is about the present condition of Africa.

Course objectives

Objective(s) of the course

Achievement levels

  • Students can describe some general features of law and governance in Sub Saharan Africa.

  • Students can explain the complexity of relationships and interactions between law, governance, and society in Africa and can set out factors that contribute to this complexity.

  • Students can explain the working of law and governance in specific (local) contexts by analysing particular case studies. They can situate these cases within their larger context.

  • Students are aware of the importance of non state law in the state legal system and in local realities, and the complicated relationship between state law and other laws. They can explain this by referring to concrete cases.

  • Students develop a critical understanding of conceptual frameworks that can be used to understand issues such as legal pluralism, law, governance, rule of law, access to justice, natural resource management and land tenure, conflicts, disputes etc.

  • Students can apply these frameworks within the context of a number of selected case studies.

  • Students can indicate the limits of the law in addressing some of the main challenges that many African countries face.

  • Within the course topic, students can choose their own topic of interest, formulate a research question and scope of research and write a literature based research paper.


The timetable of this course can be found in uSis.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 12

  • Names of lecturers: Dr. Carolien Jacobs, Bruno Braak & guest lecturers

  • Required preparation by students: see syllabus


Other methods of instruction

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam 50%

  • Group presentation (15%)

  • Essay (35%)

If the overall grade is lower than 5,5 the student can do a retake of the exam. If a student has not passed the course by the end of the academic year, the scores on the assignments, the presentation and the (re-)exam are no longer valid.

Submission procedures
Not applicable

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination material consists of the required reading (literature) for the course and the subjects taught in the lectures, the seminars and all other instructions which are part of the course.


More information on this course is offered in Blackboard.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

Course information guide:
Not applicable


  • Reader, available via

Recommended course materials


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis.
Exchange students have priority and will be registered for the course first. Any remaining seats will be available for students from Leiden University and other Dutch Universities.

Contact information

  • Co-ordinator: Dr. Carolien Jacobs

  • Work address: KOG, room B3.18

  • Contact information: by appointment via email

  • Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 4698

  • Email:


  • Institute: Metajuridica

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute

  • Room number secretary: KOG, room B3.13

  • Opening hours: Monday – Thursday 9.00 – 12.30 and 13.130 – 16.00 h.

  • Telephone number secretary: +31 (0)71 527 7260

  • Email: